Wednesday, May 6, 2015

That Pesky Balance Issue: In Defense of YA

First off: The lovely Heather of “Sometimes I’m a Story” has nominated me for The Addictive Blog Award! Thank you, Heather!



The rules are as follows:

  • Thank the person awarding you. (*clears throat* *yells loudly* THANK YOU, HEATHER!!!)
  • Share a little about why you blog and how the journey started.
  • Paste the blog award on your page.
  • Nominate 10 other bloggers you feel deserve the award.

However, as with the last time I was nominated (which was The Lyric Medley Tag), I’m not going to follow these rules to a T. Instead, here’s a link to an interview I did with blogger Adriana Gabriella which went up on Saturday. Basically, I talked about my blog and how I started and stuff like that—so you can skip on over if you want to read it, or you can ignore it and go on your merry way. As for the tags, I don’t follow too many blogs, so I’m only going to tag T. A. Christensen.


And now for the main attraction:


Last week I read an article expressing the sentiment that adults should be ashamed to read Young Adult literature. Basically, the author of the piece argues that, while it is fine for teens to enjoy these novels, grown-ups have far better books to read. To be fair, I am summarizing this woman’s writing, and I invite you to read the article for yourselves.

As I reviewed it, I found myself angered by the overall tone. However, I don’t want to label this woman as a snob, because I can’t see her heart. And while my initial reaction was to stand up in defense of YA, I do have to admit that she makes a few good points. So rather than staunchly supporting my side against hers, I’d like to see if there’s a middle ground. After all, this isn’t about shaming anyone.


Argument One: The author contends that no one would present books like Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT as real literature.


Sweeping statements like this automatically weaken a person’s argument because if the reader can find even one exception to the assertion, then the thread unravels. If I start with the premise that all monkeys are pink—well, you’d only have to produce one non-pink monkey to undermine my platform. True, I wouldn’t argue that Roth’s writing is all that spectacular, style-wise. And I wouldn’t insist that she is on level with Leo Tolstoy and William Shakespeare. But like “real” literature, DIVERGENT skillfully highlights the human condition. In Roth’s dystopian world, the five factions of Chicago cling to their respective virtues (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite), misguidedly believing that this system can fix their problems. Unfortunately, human nature has already begun to assert itself, and the structure is crumbling. Messages like this are what make George Orwell’s 1984 and ANIMAL FARM so relevant—Socialism doesn’t work because corruption invariably derails the train of progress.

DIVERGENT and its companions, INSURGENT and ALLEGIANT also deal well with the issue of betrayal and forgiveness. In fact, though I may be just outside the twelve-to-seventeen-year-old YA target audience, I still came away from the trilogy with a few new insights. When I became an adult, I didn’t become “too good” for Veronica Roth’s stories.


Argument Two: The author contends that Young Adult books are too simplistic and satisfying. Whether their conclusions are happy or tragic, they always wrap up neatly. On the other hand, she reasons, Adult novels tend to be more complex and to leave more ambiguous loose ends untied. YA aims for instant gratification and escapism while Adult literature is often messy, uncomfortable, and intricate (thus more worthwhile).


This argument has some validity. But again, it deals in sweeping statements. True, many YA novels may lean toward the simplistic side, but there are exceptions. (Also, there’s something to be said for elegance in simplicity and not gilding the lily.)

Nova Ren Suma’s beautifully-written Young Adult novel, IMAGINARY GIRLS, is a prime example. Not only does the work center on the relationship between two sisters (a refreshing break from the popular romantic focus), but Suma is not satisfied with superficiality and groan-worthy dialogue. Ruby, the main character’s older sibling, is incredibly selfish and manipulative yet also surprisingly selfless and hypnotic. Some readers might find it more comfortable if she were one or the other—bad or good—not both at the same time. But that’s human nature; we are complex and layered. Furthermore, Suma succeeds in talking around the narrator, thus conveying two messages at once—what Chloe believes is happening and what is actually happening, a line that often blurs. Not to mention the ending, which left some reviewers dissatisfied and confused.

As for the charge that adults read YA purely for escapist reasons—maybe so. Answer me this, though. Why do people pick up Harlequin novels, if not with the same motives? How many of those blush-worthy paperbacks do you think will end up on the classic shelves some thirty or forty years from now? My goal is not to bash anyone, but I would like point out that this isn’t a “target audience issue”. We read to learn, yes, but we also read to escape. And that search for instant gratification, or what have you, is not limited to one age range or one section in the book store.

Furthermore, should I be ashamed to enjoy taking a vacation from the real world? If I read Charles Dickens to escape, does that make GREAT EXPECTATIONS and DAVID COPPERFIELD poor literature? In other words, does my motive change the value of what I am putting into my mind?

Frankly, I understand that YA novels tend to have more satisfying endings. I agree. But you know, life is rough and I’m not always up to reading books like John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN or Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE, stories that just make you want to punch the universe. And I sometimes get tired of the cynicism and resignation I have encountered in adult novels, so I can understand the pull of YA with its freshness and vitality. If I want to sober myself with sad, confusing, messy events—well then, I can just read my journal. Fiction often presents beauty in order to make life more bearable—that is an admirable function.

What I’m trying to say is: We have good literature and we have poor literature, and those two categories aren’t limited to a single age range or to a single genre. No adult should feel embarrassed to read Young Adult novels. There’s no need to forget the people that we were and the issues that we faced; looking back doesn’t mean letting go of your maturity.

And teens! Don’t be afraid to read outside of your age range too. After all, if my fourteen-year-old self could enjoy Leo Tolstoy’ WAR AND PEACE, then I’m sure there’s something out there for you too. (And if you want a list of recommendations, I would be happy to supply it.)

Bottom line, please read without shame. Rant over. Now excuse me, I have a YA-SciFi-Fairytale calling my name.


  1. My first thought when I saw this post was 'oh my gosh!!' because we are studying this in English at the moment, and read that article yesterday xD I basically came out with the same conclusions- I didn't agree, but I didn't swing to completely the opposite side either.
    You summed it up very well :)

    1. Oh goodness, that is a funny coincidence! And I almost didn't write this post because the article was written last summer, so I didn't know if people were still reading it. :P Also, I'm glad I'm not the only one who came to that conclusion.
      Thank you! :)

  2. AGREED. There is no right or wrong age category when it comes to books. Books can (and should!) be enjoyed by everyone. I think I saw that article a little while back, and omg, it's just totally condescending and rude. Plus RIDICULOUS. Half the reason classics have "power" anyway, is because we've given it to them. I would say a lot of YA books have more meaning and life than classics. GAH. The ridiculous part, I believe, is belittling someone else's interests. That article is just rubbish.

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    1. I think the best way to broaden our minds is to read in varying age groups, not just to limit ourselves to a narrow scope. Personally, I am not going to be ashamed for fangirling over WINNIE THE POOH or any other children's (or teen) book. And as for classics, lots of classics weren't popular when they came out. People said the same thing about Jane Austen's novels that Ms. Graham was saying about YA. Often it just boils down to a matter of perspective, and time will decide what sticks and what doesn't, what's worth it and what isn't (to a limited degree). I feel bad for Ms. Graham though--she's shutting herself off from a lot of great books.

      You're welcome! And thanks for stopping by!